UK nowhere near target of 100,000 tests a day by end of April

The government is completing under 22,000 coronavirus tests day – despite plans to reach 100,000 by the end of the month.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the goal of 100,000 tests by April 30 at the start of the month. He said this would be achieved through a ‘five pillar’ plan, which involved swab testing in Public Health England and NHS labs and enlisting universities and private businesses to help.

Members of the British Army are also being trained in carrying out coronavirus tests on NHS staff so that any of them self-isolating due to possible symptoms can return back to work as soon as possible.

However there still remains a shortfall of around 80,000 to be made up in just 10 days, according to Hancock’s pledge. On Saturday,  21,626 tests were completed across the country.

Over the weekend Michael Gove insisted that the government is ‘on course’ for 100,000 tests, stating that lab capacity has now been ramped up to cater for 38,000 tests a day. He said this is not yet being fully used by hospitals.

However, scientists have said they cannot see the vast number ‘being achieved’, with University of East Anglia medicine professor Paul Hunter telling The Guardian: ‘It was always designed to be a headline grabber rather than anything else.’

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The UK had previously abandoned population testing and contact tracing in early March, when the number of cases started to rise. So-far more than 16,000 people have died after testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK, but the real number is believed to be much higher.

On Friday, Hancock revealed that contact tracing would be starting again, as well as adding police officers, firefighters, prison staff and Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff to the list of key workers eligible for testing.

But there have also been concerns over the accuracy of tests taking place, with experts warning that there could be ‘false negatives’ in as many as 15% of cases. Accuracy of the tests depends on their execution, timing and processing in labs.

The government had previously pinned their hopes on 20,000,000 15 minute ‘antibody’ tests they had ordered which were said to effectively tell if someone is immune to the virus. The Public Health England testing chief later admitted none of them were fit for use.

Professor John Newton said the tests, from China, could only accurately confirm immunity in patients who had been severely ill. He told The Times that not one of the tests had passed the evaluation.

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